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Councils must work together more says minister

The proposals use the existing economic development regions, with mid-Wales added to Swansea Bay. Photo: Welsh Government

After admitting defeat in its attempt to force local councils to merge, the Welsh Government has now announced its alternative proposals in a White Paper. If councils won't merge voluntarily, they will be forced to co-operate and provide shared services.

For economic development and strategic transport planning, as well as some land-use planning, councils will have to combine into just three regions. There'll be more flexibility for their other responsibilities.

The Welsh Government's starting point was that councils should combine their services to match the health board areas but it's now accepted that sometimes different arrangement will make more sense. One example is that the four most Welsh-speaking counties -Anglesey, Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire should co-operate in strengthening the language's economic base.

The document confirms the intention, set out in October, to make provision for voluntary mergers where local authorities themselves come forward with such proposals. It also sets out a series of actions to accelerate progress by local authorities to share services. This is an area where progress has been inconsistent and where there is likely to be potential for improvements to efficiency, resilience and quality of services which cannot go unharvested.

– Finance and Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford AM

Whilst councils are supportive of a move to a more regional approach, we are keen to ensure safeguards to protect and promote clear local accountability and local democracy. The Welsh Local Government Association has therefore put forward three key principles of subsidiarity to underpin any new regional arrangements, that funding should continue to be distributed to the 22 councils, that statutory duties should remain with the 22 councils and that local accountability through local councillors is essential to ensure that the needs of local communities are being met and outcomes are being delivered.

– Cllr Bob Wellington, Welsh Local Government Association

The minister will consult on the proposals before he asks the Assembly to give them the force of law. Other ideas include allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in local elections and letting councils decide if they want to switch to elections by proportional representation.